Yesterday, with my daughter and two grandsons, I walked the recently opened Paekakariki Escarpment Track, aka the Stairway to Heaven – the 10-kilometre walkway linking Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington. It’s described as one of the highlights of the Te Araroa Trail, the 3000km network of tracks stretching from Cape Reinga to Bluff.The Escarpment Track had been in the news only days before when a 62-year-old man, walking it on Anzac Day, collapsed and died. Although police said at the time that they weren’t sure whether his death was the result of a medical event or a fall, a follow-up report today gave the clear impression he suffered a heart attack.
Either is certainly possible. The Te Araroa website describes the track as steep, narrow and exposed, all of which is true. It rises from near sea level to 220 metres and there are 492 steps. Some of the stepped sections are very steep and it’s not hard to imagine someone stumbling or tripping, in which case they could fall a very long way. There are no handrails and the website suggests you shouldn’t attempt the walk if you suffer from vertigo. An additional complication is that apart from the high point of the track, which is accessible across farmland by 4WD vehicle, there’s nowhere for rescue teams or a helicopter to quickly reach anyone in trouble.People shouldn’t be deterred by publicity about the death, but they should take heed of the warnings. Judging by a couple of the walkers we saw yesterday, some people tackle the track not realising how challenging it is. It’s not a casual stroll and it’s certainly not practical for dogs, although the website makes no mention of them.
But it is a spectacular walk, and I’d like to do it again in better weather. Yesterday, unfortunately, was overcast and cool, with a cold, blustery wind. On a still, sunny day the views would be sensational.The website suggests you allow 3-4 hours. We did it in slightly less than three without rushing. Paradoxically, we would have taken longer had the weather been better, because we would have spent more time enjoying the views while we ate lunch.
I’m pleased to say the grandsons, aged 10 and 7, did it uncomplainingly and probably had more gas left in the tank at the end than I did. As we approached the finish in Pukerua Bay the younger of the two startled his mother by bursting into Deep in the Heart of Texas, which I put down to a recent stay at our place during which they enjoyed a DVD of The Muppet Show featuring Roy Rogers. Teaching them appreciation of the outdoors is one thing, but you have to ensure their cultural needs are met as well.